Report | Forecasting droughts

Humboldt scholar Tadesse Tujuba Kenea investigates droughts in Ethiopia (photo: GFZ)

Tadesse Tujuba Kenea has one goal: he would like to be able to predict droughts in Ethiopia. The holder of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH) scholarship is currently researching on this topic at the GFZ section Hydrology. To-date there is no system available that is capable of monitoring or even predicting droughts in this country at the African Horn. Ethiopia is a country of great contrasts. Mountains as high as four thousand meters and valleys reaching down to even below the sea level determine the landscape. Rivers – also from the snow-capped mountains – flow through the country and heavy rains lead to devastating flooding.  And still the country is repeatedly hit by droughts.  Such intense variations in rainfall distribution endanger agriculture which largely depends on rain for irrigation. The lack of or low precipitation causes the soil to dry out and this, in turn, leads to a reduction in agricultural yields.

In his research project at the GFZ, Kenea would like to better assess drought phases by recording where and at what point in time water is stored and available. Previous studies have focused mainly on rainfall as an indicator of droughts. In this case, a precipitation level is often defined and if this level is not reached a drought phase occurs. Kenea’s project, however, uses information from various satellite data, for example on the water deposits on the Earth's surface such as streams and lakes, or gravity field data from the GRACE mission. The information from the GRACE mission provides evidence on the occurrence as well as the temporal change in groundwater and soil moisture. Andreas Güntner, who is hosting Kenea at the GFZ, emphasizes: "The GRACE data offer the advantage that one can look beneath the Earth's surface". In this way the water storage in the subsoil can be investigated over wide stretches of land. The results of this study can be used by various organizations in Ethiopia thanks to this large-scale monitoring of disaster and water management

This project is a continuation of Kenea's previous research activities. The 33-year-old was one of the first in Ethiopia to obtain a master's degree in meteorology at the Arba Minch University. This course was introduced in 2001. In his doctoral thesis, which he will complete in 2017 at the University of Addis Abeba, he is working on the change in the groundwater storage at the Horn of Africa. With regard to his current research project Tadesse Tujuba Kenea got in touch with Andreas Güntner who is involved in hydrological measurement and modeling. In a multi-stage procedure his research project was selected as one of 19 within the framework of an International Climate Protection Fellowship of the AvH. For the one-year duration of his project at the GFZ he is living with his wife and two children in Potsdam where they are eagerly awaiting the summer in Brandenburg.

14.06.2017, Patricia Eugster